Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part IX: Ageing and Death

Note: This is the ninth and penultimate installment in an article series debunking the massive amount of pseudoscientific claims made by Stasia Bliss. This post will examine the flawed statements Bliss makes about ageing and death. For more posts in this series, see the introduction post here.

Bliss on ageing and death

As we move closer to the final installment in this series, the list of scientifically flawed assertions made by Stasia Bliss is getting longer and longer. She thinks that individuals with cystic fibrosis have themselves to blame because of acidic diet and negative thinking. She promotes colon cleansing and hydrochloric acid supplements against HIV/AIDS. She believes that staring into the sun for an extended period of time gives you the power of astral projection and unaided human flight. She asserts that human DNA has twelve strands and accepts the existence of a vital life force. She also misunderstands a number of other scientific topics, such as genetically modified foods, stating that eating GM foods makes you less human. Her notions that dark matter is a figment of our minds and her promotion of quantum woo are equally flawed.

In her post about ageing and death, Bliss claims that death is just a flawed belief resulting from psychological conditioning (despite the fact that organisms without a brain also die), misunderstands the nature and history of science, misconstrues epigenetics by claiming that ageing is the result of cells inheriting “flawed beliefs and feelings”, dismissing criticism by claiming to just ask questions, misunderstand the cognitive principle, quantum mechanics and the placebo effect. She appeals to religious and mysterian traditions as if they were valid and assert that death is an illusion because of “silent giggles” from people who have passed away and now exist in “hidden places” (in reality, post-bereavement hallucinations are very common and normal). She portrays the discovery that neutrinos can change flavor as if this meant that humans could shape-shift and thereby avoid death. Finally, she promotes the notion of human immortality although cautiously adds that it may be “woo-woo talk to some of you”. Indeed, complete woo-woo talk.

Death is a fact, not mere psychological conditioning

Yes, I kid you not, Bliss is actually insinuating that death is just a flawed belief resulting from psychological conditioning.

But does death have to occur? Is it really ‘the natural order’ of things, or have we conditioned ourselves over generations to experience such a phenomenon?

Well, what about organisms that do not have a brain? What about yeast, bacteria, diatoms etc.? They do not have the capacity for psychological conditioning, but they certainly die. This is evidence that death is not just a belief resulting from psychological conditioning, but a fact of reality.

Pessimistic meta-induction fails because of a non-representative inductive basis

I look into the face of that which seems ‘real’ to realize that much of what we have been told and believed, has crumbled into faded history and been replaced by an upgraded version of reality time and again.

One of the arguments in favor of the validity of the current scientific enterprise is that scientific models make empirically accurate predictions and is therefore corroborated by evidence. A common retort by opponents of scientific realism and miscellaneous cranks is that models that appeared to be empirically supported in the past has turned out to be wrong so therefore, the same is going to be true for a moderate chunks of modern science is wrong as well. However, there are at least three problems with this argument.

The first is that cranks and quacks have been more wrong and more frequently wrong than scientists, so the inductive argument is returned with full force against pseudoscience. If the argument is accepted against science, then the argument has to be accepted against pseudoscience as well, and it hits pseudoscience much harder than science.

The second problem is that the basis for that pessimistic meta-induction is non-representative. The alleged historical counterexamples that are brought up are always cases that occurred in a context very different from modern science: the Aristotelian belief in impetus, phlogiston, aether and humors. In modern science, there is a much stronger demand for supportive evidence, methodological soundness, explanatory scope and power as well as a fierce competition for publication and funding.

The third problem comes in the form of the correspondence principle and the resulting technical applications. When a new model seeks to replace an old model, they must both predict the same thing in areas were they both apply. This is why the theory relativity closely reproduce the predictions by Newtonian mechanics for the every-day scale. Scientists throw away that which does not work, and keep that which does work, adding new elements that are supported by the evidence. This is independently corroborated by the creation of new technical applications that are consistent with more modern models of the universe, but inconsistent with older ones. The classical example is the photoelectric effect and its applications for night vision.

Thus, Bliss’ appeal to pessimistic meta-induction has crumbled, much like phlogiston and the aether.

What makes death different?

The difference is that the notion of death is supported by a massive amount of evidence coming out from modern mainstream science, which none of the other ideas that have crumbled are.

Epigenetics does not claim the cells inherit flawed beliefs and feelings

Epigenetics is about things like DNA methylation, histone modification and chromatin remodeling and other processes that changes gene expression that are not about changes in DNA sequence. Some of these alterations are heritable. Here is how Bliss butchers epigenetics:

Other studies have taught us that our cellular make-up is influenced by our thoughts and emotions. Upon reproduction, cells mimic the pattern of the previous cell – taking with it the often flawed beliefs and feelings we have, generating less-than-perfect new cells.

Epigenetics is about molecular changes, such as the addition or removal of a methyl group, that alters gene expression. It has nothing to do with “flawed beliefs and feelings” or “aged pattern of behavior”. This is yet another classic instance when Bliss misrepresents modern science to prop up her pseudoscientific beliefs.

Somatic cells do not have an infinite replicative potential

The point is, the possibility exists for us to be continually regenerating healthy cells that do not age

It is possible to regenerate differentiated cells as the existing ones die. For instance, this occurs with red blood cells every day in the human body. However, these stem cells that produce these new differentiated cells are kept from depletion or unchecked proliferation by the stem cell niche, which is the anatomical and functional microenvironment they are located in. As this environment degrades and the stem cells ages, so does the potential of these cells to produce the full breadth of differentiated cells (Sharpless and DePinho, 2007). Thus, the existence of stem cells does not imply infinite replicative potential, nor is it an argument for human immortality.

Common models for ageing are unrelated “negative belief patterns”

Aging comes into play when we recreate negative belief patterns and dis-ease in new cells. Our ‘new’ cells get birthed with an aged pattern of behavior ingrained in them, birthed with dis-ease gifted to them and this is repeated again and again.

Bliss alludes to a couple of common partial explanations for ageing. The first is called “wear-and-tear” model, which stipulates that various forms of damage accumulate in the cell over time, and aging is a result of that. The other, called telomere shortening, is about how the length of telomeres become shorter each generation, and once they are gone, the cell treats this as a double stranded break and goes into apoptosis.

However, none of these two models (and no other model of ageing in science) is related to “aged pattern of behavior”, “gifted dis-ease” or “negative belief pattern”.

An intriguing comment about critics

Bliss acknowledges the existence of critics in the following passage:

I am well aware of the readers who will immediately rejoice in debunking my theories as ‘un-scientific’, and that’s okay with me. The point of this article is not to convince anyone that death does not exist, that would be silly, but rather to raise the question whether or not we are agreeing with a program that does not have to repeat.

Indeed, some people feel very fortunate that they can continue to expose the fact that Bliss continues to promote nonsense. However, Bliss rarely responds to her critics, and when she does, she either completely miss the point and do not actually response to the criticism or misuse scientific research.

Bliss claims that she is not attempting to convince anyone of her position and that she is just raising questions. The tactic of retreating from claims and falling back on “I am only asking questions” is a common denialist tactic known as “JAQing off”. It allows denialists to avoid taking intellectual responsibility for the claims being made and continue to ask leading questions in an effort to psychologically manipulate readers.

My suggesting is that Bliss should critically evaluate her beliefs on various pseudoscientific topics, avoid blind trust in random websites online and actually read up on the scientific topics she so thoughtlessly butchers.

Abusing the cognitive principle, the placebo effect and quantum mechanics

In a single sentence, Bliss manages to misrepresent three different principles in three different scientific fields: the cognitive principle (psychology and psychotherapy), the placebo effect (medicine) and quantum mechanics. This is a good example of how easy it is to promote nonsense in a very short period of time or in a very short text, whereas the correction takes a lot longer and a lot more text (sometimes called “the asymmetry of bullshit”).

In the face of modern science and the understanding that our thoughts contribute to the reality we experience, that emotions can affect our healing rates and where the observer dictates that which is seen, I really wonder how much we perpetuate the ‘unreal?’

The cognitive principle states that there is a cognition step between an event and an emotional response (Westbrook, Kennerley, & Kirk, 2011). So two people who experience the same event may display different emotions. This does not mean that our thoughts influence reality, only that out cognition can influence our emotions. The placebo effect is all improvements that can be attributed to effects of anything other than the active treatment. This includes expectancy effects, conditioning, regression to the mean and so on. Finally, quantum mechanics does not claim that observers determine reality. The placebo effect and quantum mechanics were discussed in additional detail in previous installments of this article series.

Reality wins over “mystical traditions”

Bliss continues her post by making the following strange claim:

In mystical traditions and biblical references, humans used to live for thousands of years. Why not now? What is different between this day and age and the time of say, Moses?

The scientific answer to this question is, of course, that mystical traditions and biblical claims about ages of several hundred years are invented by humans and does not accurately reflect reality. As a person ages, more damage accumulates, both to DNA and other macromolecules, but also to organ systems. This means that the claims of ages close to 1000 years (the Jewish Bible claims that Adam was 930 years old) are not biologically credible.

Modern neuroscience is incompatible with the notion of an afterlife

Don’t get me wrong, I am not afraid of death, though I feel like it may be an illusion. The people who I have known who have ‘crossed over’ seem to whisper from hidden spaces a silent giggle that we have not quite figured it out yet. Whenever someone ‘dies’ it seems their consciousness has a sudden awakening in the sphere between this world and where they are and I become aware that they just ‘got it’, though maybe we don’t have to follow the same path to understand.

How does Bliss know death is an illusion? Apparently, it is because some of her friends who have died have communicated with “silent giggles” (if they are silent, how can Bliss hear them?) from “hidden places”. The scientific view is that the mind is a function of the brain, and the mind gets destroyed when the brain decomposes. So that would suggest that there is no consciousness after death. Furthermore, it is quite common for mentally healthy people to have auditory and visual hallucinations after a loved one has passed away and this is considered normal. For instance, Rees (1971) showed that 47% of a sample of widows had hallucinations after their partner had died and these were often recurring under several years.

So what is more likely: that modern neuroscience is wrong and consciousness survives death to whisper giggles to people, or that people who experience a loss experience common auditory and visual hallucinations?

The “shape-shifting” of flavor-changing neutrinos is a metaphor unrelated to human life-span

New research has shown that neutrinos can change flavor under certain circumstances in a process called neutrino oscillation. So a muon neutrino can come an electron neutrino (Wilking, 2013). How does Bliss spin this finding? She claims that it shows that particles are “shape-shifters” (a metaphor used in the journalist article) and suggests that humans could “shape-shift” instead of dying.

Science has recently observed and documented that particles can change form, in the blink of an eye – shapeshifting – they call it. What if that’s what we can do instead of die?

In a previous post that she links in this section, she makes the argument that since particles can “shape-shift” so can humans, since we are made up out of particles. She fails to understand that this shape-shifting is a property of neutrinos, not the particles that make up the bulk of our bodies (electrons, protons and neutrons). Furthermore, just because something is true for some parts does not mean it is true for the whole. A single water molecule does not show surface tension, but a bunch of water molecules sure do. This is not something mysterious or “holistic”. It is just an interaction between parts.

The difference between believing and knowing

If I believe X, that means that I hold X as true. However, this does not mean that X is, in fact, true. It just means that I think it is. Knowledge, on the other hand, requires that X is true and that we have good reasons for holding X is true. Bliss makes this key mistake in the following paragraph:

There are those on this planet right now teaching the philosophies and techniques of ‘immortality’ and the concepts that must exist in order to have a ‘deathless society.’ This is woo-woo talk to some of you, and others of you raise an eye brow, because inside many of us we somehow know there is truth to this.

Indeed, the notion that the biological bodies of humans are immortality is “woo-woo talk”. Also, it does not matter that some people claim to know deep down inside that human immortality. The do not have knowledge, but belief. If they want to put forward the claim that human immortality is actual, then they need to present scientific evidence for this. Promoting grave misunderstandings of fields like epigenetics or quantum mechanics is not enough. It does not even come close.

Conclusion:

Death is often scary, but we should not invent scientific falsehoods like shape-shifting humans, biological immortality, non-physical minds, mystical traditions, cells inheriting negative belief patterns and so on to fool ourselves.

References:

Rees, W. D. (1971). The Hallucinations of Widowhood. Br Med J. 4(5778): 37-38, 39-41.

Sharpless, Norman E., & DePinho, Ronald A. (2007). How stem cells age and why this makes us grow old. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol, 8(9), 703-713.

Westbrook, David, Kennerley, Helen, & Kirk, Joan. (2011). An Introduction to Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Skills and Applications (2nd ed.). London: SAGE Publication.

Wilking, Michael. (2013). New Results from the T2K Experiment: Observation of a ve apperance from a vμ beam. Cern. Accessed: 2013-08-14.

2 responses to “The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part IX: Ageing and Death

  1. Pingback: The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Introduction | Debunking Denialism

  2. Pingback: The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part X: Measles | Debunking Denialism

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